The role of the archivist in performing arts documentation : theory and practice



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Faced with the ephemeral nature of the art of performance, performing arts archivists must decide whether it is appropriate for them to intervene to ensure the creation of documents, what documents should be created, and how they should be created. In order to adequately answer these questions, archival theory, with its traditional focus on objectivity and non-interference, must meet with theories of documentation from performance and theatre studies, which question the possibility of adequately capturing or saving performance given the subjective and perspective nature of both the work and documents arising from it. This study addresses these questions both theoretically and practically through a survey of performing artists and a case study observing an archivist interacting with a performing arts community to facilitate the preservation of its work. The artists surveyed in this study demonstrated both an interest in improved documentation of their own work and an understanding of the limits of documentation. The archivist in the case study, after experimenting with various levels of involvement in the creation of documentation, concluded that the best approach would be a focus on building connections between the archival and performing arts communities, providing artists with the education and support they need to document themselves, and giving them secure homes for the documents they choose to create.